Only a couple of weeks after India launched its first-ever mission to Mars, NASA has also just sent another probe to the Red Planet. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft was successfully launched yesterday, November 18th, at 1:28 pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
For decades, Jupiter’s moon Europa has been the focus of fascination and debate. Why? Because it has a global ocean – a deep, salty ocean similar to those on Earth, except that in Europa’s case it is always covered by a crust of ice. Speculation has grown that there could be life of some kind in that alien watery darkness, and now there is a new proposal for how to look for it – a tiny submarine!
So far, thousands of exoplanets and exoplanet candidates have been found orbiting other stars. As well, astronomers have seen some exoplanets still in the process of formation, providing clues as to how our own solar system came to be. One of these recent “planet-under-construction” findings however is challenging current theories on planetary formation – it’s a planet which “shouldn’t be there” according to conventional wisdom.
The many orbiters, landers and rovers have, and continue to, send back an increasing wealth of information about Mars. Sometimes though, we are lucky enought to have a piece of Mars come to us instead. A bunch of Martian meteorites have been found over the years, in places like Antarctica. They offer a unique, hands-on peek into the geological history of the Red Planet. Now, one of them has yielded more clues to the possibility of life having started there, it was reported on June 11, 2013.
As announced a while ago, one of the most exciting discoveries by the Curiosity rover on Mars so far has been an apparent ancient streambed which once flowed right through the landing site. Now, additional examination of the evidence confirms that it is what it seemed to be – a very old, now long-dry, riverbed.
With all of the attention that NASA’s rovers Opportunity and Curiosity have been getting, and deservedly so, we might forget sometimes that there are still other spacecraft orbiting Mars as well. NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter continue to return amazing high-resolution views of the planet from orbit, but there is also the ESA’s Mars Express, a European probe which is now celebrating its tenth year in orbit and still going strong.
After successfully coming out of solar conjunction late last month, the Curiosity rover has resumed its science activities, beginning with the second drilling into bedrock, it was reported yesterday. This location, a piece of bedrock called “Cumberland,” is only about 2.75 metres (9 feet) west of the first drill site, called “John Klein.”
Venus has a reputation for being one of the most inhospitable places in the solar system, and deservedly so. Its thick carbon dioxide (and acidic) atmosphere has a crushing pressure similar to that in the deepest oceans on Earth and the scorching temperature on the surface is hot enough to melt lead. It’s like that everywhere on the planet, all the time. It has therefore been considered an extremely unlikely environment to support any kind of life. Even the toughest microbes here would find survival next to impossible. There is however a possibility, even if remote, that the upper atmosphere of this hellish world could be habitable, according to some scientists.
The goal of sending astronauts to Mars is one that NASA has had for a long time now, and a conference this week in Washington, DC is hoping to bring that dream closer to reality.